“You have no right to judge me.” Or so I’ve been told.
Truth is, they’re right. As a sinner saved by grace I am in no position to cast any stones of condemnation. The rationale as to WHY I shouldn’t be judging, however, is where the debate comes in.
Yesterday’s reasoning for abstaining from judgment was because I too was a sinner and therefore didn’t have the right to suggest I’m better. We’ll call this the moral hypocrisy argument. Again, I don’t disagree. But that’s not today’s rationale. Today, in the 21st century, the logic we’re generally fed for why it’s inappropriate to make moral judgments about others is because everyone is responsible for forming their own truth. At least that’s the current cultural assumption. Do what you want to do, be true to yourself, just don’t hurt anyone along the way. This is the moral relativism argument.
This is something of a hollowed out Golden Rule and is fairly clever. It sounds nice and is probably the best case you can make for morality apart from God.
But, with just a little thought, the average person can recognize that moral relativism doesn’t work.
If everything is permissible so long as you’re not hurting anyone, who gets to say for sure whether or not someone is being hurt?
Take something as commonplace today as pornography usage.
We now have 20 years of research on the effects of internet pornography, a generation of people largely educated by the public to believe that porn was a legitimate “safe sex” alternative to engaging in more risky sexual behavior. It wasn’t just a victimless crime. It was touted as a “healthy” alternative.
Today, we know that approximately 80% of young adult men, 70% of middle-aged men, and 50% of older adult men admit to accessing pornography on some sort of regular basis (Pornography usage numbers, by the way, are often considered by experts to be notoriously underreported, i.e. it could be higher.). Couple this regularity with the tidal wave of research that says pornography consumption leads to a vastly heightened prevalence of sexual addiction, sexual dysfunction, more graphic, illegal, and abusive sexual practices, the devaluation of monogamy and child rearing, and quite predictably, the likelihood of an affair. In 2002, the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers reported the following as the most salient factors present in divorce cases: 68% of the divorces involved one party meeting a new lover over the Internet. 56% involved one party having “an obsessive interest in pornographic websites.” (A nice comprehensive summary of some of the best research can be found here.)
The recent Ashley Madison hack has brought to light exactly what an absolute hell pornography is. If you somehow haven’t heard by now, Ashley Madison is a Canadian based website that facilitates adultery for its users, under the theme Life is short. Have an affair. The site had roughly 40 million users.
Let’s put that into perspective. The majority of users obviously came from the U.S. and Canada, the combined population of which is 350 million. A little less than half of those are male, approximately 170 million. The youngest of those (under 18) are ineligible to be users, and the oldest of those (over 60) are significantly less likely. That group accounts for half the male population, which, when subtracted, is now down to 85 million. Again, Ashley Madison had 40 million users. The site’s members were obviously not all male, but this suggests how insanely quietly common this site was – a website that was the natural step for porn users who had “become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.” (Eph. 4:19 ESV) The NIV84 translates that last part as “a continual lust for more.” That does a great job of capturing the nature of addiction – what worked yesterday to offer me a high is going to be need to be ratcheted up in order to deliver the same payoff today. The vast majority of extramarital trysts today are preceded by pornography usage, and often, addiction. Addiction is slavery, and this sort of sex addiction is some sort of shameful infidelity hell. Keep in mind, Ashley Madison is JUST ONE WEBSITE! This can’t even possibly account for much more than a fraction of all American infidelity!
So let’s back up a step. Are the only ones “hurt” in all this the Josh Duggars and Sam Raders – i.e. the high-profile Christians who weren’t true to their stated convictions that such behavior was wrong? Or are the millions and millions of wives and husbands and children who are affected by this, regardless of their stance on pornography and sexual liberation, also harmed? Not to mention the guilty parties themselves, who are now left ashamed, crippled with guilt, and trying to sort through the debris of relational devastation they’ve caused. Two suicides related to the hack have already been confirmed.
The fact that mainstream media’s first impulse in this case was to report on the potential links to members of the military, Congress, and the White House, shows the media’s inability to grasp the widespread relational significance of this information. The secular world right now does not know what sin is, or what to do with it.
Less than two months ago, as a country, we officially redefined marriage. And now, in part, we know why. Because nationally, at least in practice, we apparently HATE the biblical design for monogamous, faithful, Christ-centered marriage.
The cultural command is…everything is permissible so long as you’re not hurting anyone. Again, I ask, who gets to say for sure whether or not someone is being hurt? It certainly seems like millions are now hurting because of the relative morality dictum.
So, I’m suggesting we reconsider.
Relative morality does not work. Darwinian amorality, where everyone does whatever they see fit, even if it does involve willfully hurting others, would end civilization. The third option, the only option left, is universal morality. And the absolute truth that teaches universal morality can only be found outside of us, in divine revelation. It would make sense for us to once again revisit such an option at a time like this.
Since universal truth is, by definition, timeless, it is unchanging. This is why Jesus, thousands of years after Creation, can reaffirm God’s design for human sexuality:
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Matt. 19:4-6)
Moving back to that paradigm WOULD CAUSE LESS HURT. No more pornography. No more hook ups. No more cohabitation. No more infidelity. I guarantee we’d be happier, healthier, and more satisfied. We’d hurt less.
But renewed effort, redirected goals, and godly guidelines won’t atone for our mistakes. For that we also need divine intervention.
So, for all who have been hurt by the slavery packaged as “sexual liberation,” the Bible also has a wealth of comfort.
Amazingly, God himself also knows exactly what it’s like to be hurt by unfaithfulness. God even specifically had his prophet Hosea take a cheating wife, Gomer, to illustrate to his people that he knew what it was like to be devastated by (spiritual) philandering. When the Lord began to speak through Hosea, the Lord said to him, “Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the Lord.” (Hosea 1:2)
We have a God who has been cheated on. And he has all the power in the universe at his disposal to heal us of our wounds and free us from our slavery. He also has enough love to pay the price to separate our sins of unfaithfulness from us, as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12).
Now he guides us to a more beautiful design for human sexuality.
What would it look like if we all really believed that?